The Pie
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The Pie

Under the Skins and Shells of How “Should” Sells

Or maybe: The Spells and Shells of the Lead Cows’ Bells

Hi Everyone,

Looks like fall is finally here. Hmm, which season is my favorite? For me, having to choose between summer or fall as the favorite is like having to choose between two different kinds of social enjoyment. Family or friends? Poignant movies or comedies? City or countryside? And no, September, you are not the metaphorical answer. But we do love you, too.

This (6 minute) intro is going to go a little deep for an opening maybe, but it helps for when Stu presents Rhettie’s and Wally’s poems and what seems to be happening in co-creating their musical(s?).

Stu sometimes, just jokingly, refers to us humies as the dichotomous hypo-potamus, which really needs some explanation here.

He’s referring to our tendency to continually try and judge between two options or conditions then choose or designate the better of the two. But sometimes that’s like arguing for whether a hippopotamus really prefers or needs land OR water. That’s partly where Stu gets dichotomous hypo-potamus. He uses hypo- to indicate that this is a low or default way of thinking.

He says, “It was fine for your first couple hundred thousand years or so,” (with an eye-roll for fun) but also suggests that the essential wise guides of families and communities even then contributed by employing a less dichotomous framework — for the tough stuff especially. Who knows, but it makes sense.

And Stu explained that it wasn’t just about blissfully saying “Both!” when faced with a perceived dichotomy, but looking deeply, broadly, and distantly, such that the “two” could be seen as elements of something else that exists as a complex whole that’s necessary for sustained human flourishing. (I’m thinking struggle vs. rest here, or problem-solving vs. routine work.)

Funny, on the top shelf, right after the pillar, is the 2021 edition of Robert Cialdini’s classic “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” Stu loves the irony in the year that the first edition came out, which was 1984. I love that the latest is in 2021, at least for our story.

“Hey, what are you trying to say?”

To some this all might sound like a prelude to another “If it feels good, do it/think it” composition — the anthem in the 70’s (for sensual pleasures and recreational drug use) or the 80’s (for profiteering and consumption, while not neglecting sensual pleasures and recreational drug use).

True, complexity was used then to rationalize…whatever was wanted, as it is sometimes today. But there’s more to the story now, which should not be surprising at fifty years down the road and with brain imaging from fMRI machines.

Side note, sort of: The really interesting things are not the actions or customs but the philosophical rationale, or actually, the mental processes of either creating or adopting that philosophical rationale. Ironically, it was back in the 1970’s that the concept of motivated reasoning (the source of most rationale) was recognized as a more constant and inherent cognitive phenomenon than was assumed earlier. Not many memos were sent out on that then.

Most of the memos on that have been ignored again today. It’s sounds kind of cold and preachy doesn’t it, not cozy. (It can be cozy, actually. But really it’s our kids and grandkids that want us to take this seriously, regardless, since the outcome is their future society.)

Dichotomous Hypo-potamus continued:

Stu liked “-potamus” because it refers to river, and humies think/decide in a river of political and philosophical precedents and frameworks. The default modes of thinking can be innate or learned, and are often beneficial (otherwise this wouldn’t still be so prevalent), but so often…Dichotomous Hypo-potamus. I get it. We do that. And it gets exploited in many ways for persuasion, peddling, propaganda, proselytizing, politics…

Dichotomous thinking tends to emerge from optimizing and maximizing. This might sound strange, but maybe we should focus less on optimizing and maximizing in our personal domains of real and small economics and politics (in the navigating-life-and-wants realm — real and small). And by should there, I just mean that it might work out better for our personal selves and for our communitarian selves.

Once you take the political claws and caws and causes out of that thought exploration, it’s actually a fun thing to mull over.

Well, it’s fun right up until we feel the need to build that philosophical airship or blimp, that can supposedly, with its airtight skin and flashing lights, maybe a bright digital screen, be sent aloft as the answer and the way for others to grow and learn from. It takes some suspended disbelief as well as suspended belief to make that kind of airship, not that they aren’t alluring to a crowd looking for socially binding and bonding answers.

Once you’re part of building and launching one, it’s hard to say you’re sorry if you change your mind, and that everyone whose lives were affected needs to just forget it ever happened. So those blimps get defended pretty well, with Philosophies and fauxlosophies, instead of being pulled back down in embarrassment, regret, and remorse — speaking of suspended disbelief.

Stu calls them Err-ships. I won’t go into all that, but coincidentally Wally’s poem is titled Don’t Err Like Aristotle. He composed it from conversations with Rhettie, and it’s about the context(s) created or perpetuated by Aristotle’s thinking and his centuries of devotees. (This is NOT actually a criticism of Aristotle or his devotees, but it’s a cautionary tale that’s very fitting for today.)

Once again, this weirdly relates to a scene in the story of The Point, an animation from Harry Nillson in 1971, at least the way Rhettie uses it here, having to do with there first being an accepted understanding of context, or the problem, before a point, or proposal, can be compelling. It seems like we often accept the assumed context and problem portrayed too quickly. (You don’t actually need to watch the film to get this, because it’s only implied anyway. It just resonated with Rhettie and Wally.)

Sometimes it’s more important to question the assumed context than the point itself. This is what happened with Aristotle as well as in the adoption of his ideas about the natural world in spite of there being alternative nearly correct models at the same time in history (i.e., Aristarchus’ heliocentrism and Democritus’ atoms.)

Aristotle’s “compelling” explanations, credentials, and cultural primacy, a type of ivory tower, mishaped our thinking for almost two thousand years while the (nearly) correct explanations had been known the whole time. His framework, the context he assumed, of a motionless earth, is another broad allegory for our day. (That is, in addition to the allegory of the apple’s unexpected PR problem of the 19th century — described in the 10/2/21 newsletter.)

The Poems from Wally and Rhettie

Wally’s poem is powerful in its own way, and he focuses on what is simple enough to stick. He loves working on Rhettie’s ideas even though he cuts a lot out.

He’s going with a metaphor on Copernicus’ perspective: the earth going around the sun in spite of initial appearances. It’s a pretty powerful metaphor and cuts both left and right, if you know what I mean.

The key is that it’s short, relatively simple, and made-to-stick, just like the title of Chip and Dan Heath’s wonderful book about persuading people. You might sense some ominous ambiguity in that description, not that I don’t like their books.

Rhettie is moving in that Made-to-Stick direction, but she still tends to express more of her thinking, and her poem is much longer. It also gets into more detailed and complex observations, albeit still metaphorical ones. She trusts Wally’s paring down, and has finally found someone who cares about her mullings.

Selling Solutions/Persuading People

In marketing, therefore in politics, and even in political-philosophy, the first step is to establish a reality, the egg from which the point, the beak of the bird, will emerge.

That’s called a problem/solution appeal. (It’s also called a pain-point/solution appeal but using point in that way here gets confusing with this metaphor, lol.) The egg is the context — the perceived or promoted view of reality and embedded systems. This is how Rhettie is using the giant egg scene from The Point.

Once that egg/context/reality is accepted as true-and-complete enough, all kinds of proposals, or points, will be made to fix the problems in that…contextual egg. Any beak, or point, that can crack that perceived shell/egg will be lauded as a new way and part of the best ways.

Considering all the potential eggs out there, or perspectives on reality, pat answers and political/philosophical fix-ations look a little…small…and even comical — if they weren’t so deceptively confident and compelling to so many. Well, what seems like so many.

The many are likely to come from more of a primal crowd-building function than from genuine and shared understanding or agreement with the supposed core binding concepts themselves. (Thus the Middlers that Stu and I talk about).

Sigh. This is an inherent weakness in democracy and our free markets of “information” (compelling partially true stories about reality). We’re probably fine just accepting this fault, though still countering it, rather than expecting a perfect and persistent solution to it.

Well, I’m gonna let Stu do most of the talking today since he knows Rhettie and Wally much better than I do.

The Copernican Context Wasn’t Obvious or Intuitive

(4 minute read time)

Me: Okay Stu, I’ve introduced this already, but what else do they need to know before hearing them, or reading them?

Stu: Well…just that Copernicus was the guy who kinda kicked off the Scientific Revolution or Renaissance leading to the Enlightenment leading to today, I guess you could say. Oh, and Aristotle was a smart guy from the ancient Greek world that gave Copernicus something do almost two thousand years later by dismissing the sun-centered model proposed in his day since “clearly” the earth wasn’t moving. He very effectively trolled what was actually correct.

Me: Feeling a bit cheeky today as a Brit might say?

Stu: Being a bit Rhyme-y today as a Limey might say?

Me: Touche’… Okay, I’ll stop. That’s annoying. What else?

Stu: Wally, as usual, is going for something with punch. He might have actually overdone it in some places, like when he mentions Good and Should. No one, Left or Right, is very comfortable with a challenge to the ideas of Good and Should.

Me: But is he really challenging the idea? I guess he is.

Stu: First of all, it’s really an adaptation of something he and Rhettie talked about. He has a great way of making her thoughts more accessible and concise, even if the nuance gets chopped. His thinking is to get attention then go back and add the nuance. What he means is, or what she meant was, Good and Should are useful labels for something much more complicated and grounded. Can’t get into it here, but it’s not very mystical.

Me: Anything else?

Stu: One of Rhettie’s favorite movies is A Beautiful Mind, which was based on John Nash’s life. She has a heart for people with cognitive conditions like John Nash had, the mathematician, and she absolutely loves, it brings her tears, knowing that his Nash Equilibrium idea, he didn’t name it I don’t think, might play the biggest part of you humies understanding of wanting vs. getting. That’s like…a potential metamorphosis in thought.

Me: I don’t know enough about it to see why.

Stu: Okay, it’s in the cooperative game theory realm, and if you incorporate positive and negative emotions, the neurotransmitters, with that…feelings of happiness and sadness or whatever…some things make sense that would only be argued about with Philosophy and religion. It’s not a formula, but a way to see that stuff differently.

Me: That’s where Copernicus comes in, I imagine.

Stu: He’s in the whole thing, not just that part. It’s really, the John Nash part, kind of a stretch to put in here. People might take it the wrong way, thinking it implies there’s some algorithm. It’s just a principle, but it works. It’s about optimizing in a different way. It’s not in opposition to most religions or serious philosophies, even ancient ones, about human flourishing.

Oh, and he mentions John Lennon by referring to “Revolution #9”.
That’s nothing really, but Lennon was caught up in the early days of when you all got let out of the cage. All the constraints. Too distracted by the old cage still.

Me: Okay, so here it is.

Don’t Err Like Aristotle

Come back, Copernicus,
and take a turn with us!
Could it be?
We see what seems clear,
but it’s not reality?
That we’re swayed by well-meaning,
but Left- or Right-leaning,
churches, so to speak,
and icons on their peaks?

Come back, Copernicus,
and take a turn with us!
Help us see,
that it’s not about Should,
or what makes Good be.
That-it’s more like game theory,
like in A Beautiful Mind,
from John Nash, not the John
of Revolution #9.

Come back, Copernicus,
and take a turn with us!
Could it be?
Self-is-not at the center,
and we’ll splinter until-we-see
that we inherited a view
— won’t serve me, won’t serve you,
that serves pieces in our brain,
but not its whole, thus it’s in vain?

Me: That’s thought-provoking.

Stu: Not too provocative? I think it might be.

Me: Um…I think adding the nuance right away, I mean right away, just a hint, would make it land right. Unsettling, possibly threatening, then cautious acceptance. And that could be a good model to repeat and help make audiences comfortable with initial discomfort. You know?

Stu: Okay. We’ll see. Rhettie’s is almost easier. Let me see what you’ve said so far. (2 minute pause. Stu reads very quickly if I lift him up so he can scan and not have to walk all over the page.)

Alright, I just want to stress that the egg and the little bird inside and the shell that’s made into a cage is NOT about somebody being set free or growing freely or whatever. It’s the idea. The little bird is an idea. When the shell gets turned into a cage, she’s referring to the protection of the idea from scrutiny, testing, for its completeness.

I think you said plenty about context and all. She kinda touches on the blimp thing when she says “but elevate they do.” She’s pretty good, I think.

I like how she talks about me at the end, like I’m just in her dream. I love it. I love being part of that.

I’ve read the 2009 Edition a couple of times and his almost-as-important “Pre-suasion”. Really love that there’s a new chapter on The Unity Principle in the 2021 edition. The books were supposedly meant to raise awareness and protect, but instead they’ve mostly been used for more effective influencing. Damn Stralfs.

(5 minute read time. I put the poem on Medium a week ago, but not with Stu’s comments up above, which are important for her points, so here it is again.)

Rhettie’s Poem With a Point and a Preview

The Point of the Egg

The point of the point
is to crack the shell,
once meant for protection,
but we know quite well,
once the little bird
has formed, and can sing,
it needs to explore,
make a door, soon take wing.

More than once in a while,
a shell becomes a cage.
It protected a notion
at an earlier stage.
But once it’s formed, whole,
been around for a while,
that cognitive shell’s full of holes,
and some guile.

That bird of a notion
has pecked its own holes
and exposed itself fit
for reality’s tolls.
“Will that notion fly?
It was formed with such zeal.”
But the parents fear failure,
so they bring in the steel.

Now the shell is a cage,
reinforced with strong wire.
Once creators of a life,
and now that life’s deniers.
The parents, or guardians,
make a cage that protects.
They forget that things change,
and that changes context.

They escaped from a cage
of the cognitive kinds
and conceived a solution,
by combining their minds.
But the context and content,
the contact of-their-point,
was temporal in nature,
too ephemeral to annoint.

But elevate they do,
to a Truth in their eyes
and bring in the steel,
for the cage, which denies,
freedom of thought
and further explorations.
Our kids bear the error
in the next generations.

The cage might be steeled
with esoteric books.
Love and power are the payoffs
of quasi-cleric hooks.
New-or-old quotes and phrases
make for all-knowing looks.
But proof is in the pudding,
not the claims of the cooks.

So shed charades, don’t be afraid,
to look under that shell;
there’s a con in condescension,
and it works so well.
But our children will pay,
and what will grandchildren say,
if we look the other way
and admit but don’t tell?

Or like this…

The mavenhoods and the guru’s goods
wouldn’t sell if we didn’t
crave solutions and Shoulds.
That’s good…
But solutions and Shoulds
have a context, a frame;
let’s say that’s the shell
for the solution they claim.

Well just about anyone
can create their own frame,
the context, or shell,
the egg they then aim
to break with their point,
or their beak, or their speech;
and the egg they’ve created
validates what they teach.

But how real was the egg
that their beak point would break?
Or how long would it last,
producing pain and heartache?
A point must have value,
or a hard shell to crack.
And-if the egg isn’t real,
who’ll turn the clock back?

We won’t buy the point if
we don’t first buy the egg.
But if the egg’s fake or old,
no matter how they’ll beg,
our kids will be left,
with tears in their eyes,
in a world we created
from half-truths, like lies.

Not we directly,
but we bought the shell,
or the egg, with the beak,
the point they sold so well.
With no egg there’s no point,
of the point, I mean,
so the egg must sell first,
it’s the setting, the scene.

Then “Here is the scene,
and here’s the solution.
There’s no need to question,
let’s commence execution.”
And execute they will,
the options to Their Way,
and the whole truth stands by,
for yet another day.

Or another generation,
that kind of “day”,
and while-we-wait for whole stories,
here comes…the Fray.
But the Fray’s not the way,
to their peace and those smiles,
cuz the Fifty Year Fit,
just delays and beguiles.

The Fifty Year Fit,
the Fray, closely connected,
began as a quest,
but then got infested.
Both began as a question,
a wondering of sorts,
“Let’s qualify the quotidian.”
Soon that met retorts.

And I saw, in a dream,
small creatures perk up,
as-if-they sensed alarm,
and a chance to disrupt,
a valid conversation,
about flourishing and joy,
and assumptions heretofore,
and what steps to employ.

The creatures looked
at each other,
and their eyes got real big,
because this was their chance,
for a plan that they’d rigged.
They didn’t have mouths,
or they would have grinned.
They’re like green potatoes,
just eyes and green skin.

They can puff up their bodies
and can take a new shape,
change color, blend in.
They don’t want to escape.
They lurk in their camo,
and mumble from-inside,
no mouths, I don’t know;
it’s-from inside their hide.

When people hear a voice
confirming their notions,
it’s-often these things at work,
working their emotions.

As I wondered how aliens,
small, and unlike I’d feared,
got into my head, I mean dreams,
why they appeared,
I saw a blue bug,
well, blue and green,
with glasses, and-a-phone,
like a cute Disney scene.

And he spoke, through his mouth,
and with a faint voice he called,
“Hey Rhettie, are you ready?
Will you get involved?”

And his name is Stuard,
well, it’s Stu, for short,
and he’s all alone,
the only one of his sort.

And he told me about Stralfs,
and their planet, so far away,
how-they came here long ago,
and he remembers that day.

As he watched from a cattail
by his home on the shore,
as John Murphey named a-town,
and some wondered what for.

But a Stralf had been lurking,
and wanted to show,
he could lead John’s deciding,
on which way to go.

John thought of some names,
but all-at-once they departed,
and he chose “Morocco.”
That’s where-and-how this all started.

Okay, it’s-a weird dream,
kinda lucid, and woo-woo,
but the Stralfs are our problem
— at least according to Stu.

Stu: What did you think?

Me: I liked it. I really liked that she introduced the rest of the story. I mean the story she and Wally are working on about the Stralfs and “what if they’d never come here” and all.

Stu: Quasi-fictional counterfactual musical metamockumentary.

Me: Let’s see what happens.

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7th Pie Theory from Bug Stu and Allie Space-Owl. There are six pies represented in the American Economic Tray, and we need a 7th. It leads to a way funner way than the fray we have today — per Stu and Allie. And so long Postmodernism. And hopefully, so long Stralfs.

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T.J. Storey

T.J. Storey

Former teacher, Jeanne’s husband, Brandon’s and Elyse’s dad. No guru/no woo woo. Fan of how-things-work and what it means for our kids, theirs, theirs,…

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